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Travel Scene: Cruise lines take ships up a notch

Published: Friday, June 1, 2007

The cruise industry will be sporting a new look this year.

First of all, several major cruise lines will be placing new ships in the water -- and for four of them, the new vessels will be of an entirely new design.

Secondly, there will be more shore excursions for passengers to choose from, since a host of new ports of call -- with Alaska, the Caribbean, Australia and China as examples -- are being added to itineraries.

Thirdly, partially to keep up with the new trends offered by the new ships coming on line, there are new on-board innovations that will be offered on existing vessels.

So all in all, it looks like it will be a banner year for the fast-growing cruise industry, which isn't afraid to spend money on new offerings. All told, several billion dollars are at stake in this race for heads in beds.

The largest of the new vessels coming on line this year is the mammoth Independence of the Seas, which will make its maiden voyage May 17 under the banner of Royal Caribbean. With a capacity of 3,834 passengers, the Independence of the Seas is the third of Royal Caribbean's giant vessels.

Its sister ships, the Freedom and the Liberty, now cruise the Caribbean, while the Independence of the Seas will sail European waters.

Holland America Line will launch its largest vessel, the 2,104-passenger Eurodam, on July 5. The first ship in the line's new Signature Class, it will offer several innovations in design. It will cruise primarily this year in the Baltic, Canada, New England and Caribbean.

The 3,006-passenger Carnival Splendor will make its maiden voyage July 13. It will be the first in a new series of bigger ships for Carnival. It will boost the line's first "Spa Staterooms" -- 68 cabins directly tied to the ship's 21,000-square-foot Cloud 9 Spa. The ship is scheduling European, Mediterranean and Caribbean itineraries.

The Celebrity Solstice, a 2,850-passenger vessel, is another new vessel; it will sail eastern Caribbean cruises. It is the first ship in Celebrity's new Solstice class and will have larger rooms than its predecessors.

Besides these ships, two new vessels are due under the fast-growing MSC Cruises banner, the MSC Poesia and the MSC Fantasia. Both are in the 3,000-passenger class. The Fantasia hopes to lure high-end guests with luxury suites that will include a private solarium, two Jacuzzis, a pool and observation lounge.

Then, of course, the Queen Victoria has just been launched by Cunard Lines. A super-luxurious ship, it is already making an impact on the industry. It's the sister ship of the well-received Queen Mary 2, which attracted Post-Bulletin cruisers on a Caribbean trip a couple of years ago.

New destinations

Ever hear of Ice Strait Point? That's a new Alaska port of call, where you will have the chance of getting acquainted with the native Huna Tlingit population. It's a brand-new port, built from scratch, on Alaska's Chichagof Island.

The reason for a bevy of emerging ports is that veteran passengers are looking for destinations they haven't visited, notes an official of Carnival Corp. in a McClatchy Newspapers  article.

Another reason for looking for alternate ports of call is that many existing ports are overwhelmed by the sheer number of ships. In many Caribbean and Alaska destinations, for example, five ships can be at the same location on the same day, bringing thousands of visitors to much-smaller population centers.

In Australia, some ships now stop at Hobart in Tasmania, home of the Tasmanian Devil and ecological preserves. In New Zealand, cruisers now may call at Wellington, the country's capital.

While the main port of call in China is Tianjin, which serves inland Beijing, two other ports -- Dalian and Qingdao -- are building cruise terminals.

Several new ports are being created in the Caribbean, where demand is strong. Costa Maya, a gateway to Mayan ruins, has been open for only a few years but now is Mexico's second-largest port. A new port has been created in Grand Turk, and one on the island of Roatan, Honduras, will open soon.

Innovations

To keep up with all of the changes, existing ships are adding amenities. Many are of the gee-whiz variety, leading one cruise industry publication -- Cruise Critic -- to wonder whether a roller coaster will be next.

Some of the new tricks, several of which were added a few years ago, include ice skating, bowling, rock-climbing walls, giant trampolines, special wine cellars and offerings from celebrity chefs, balcony dining and movies under the stars.

Some other suggestions cruise line officials are reportedly considering, notes an Associated Press  article, are a ferris wheel, revolving deck top restaurant and balconies with private plunge pools.

So, it's easy to understand why cruising is a rapidly changing experience. You never know what to expect.

\n Bob Retzlaff This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it is travel editor of the Post-Bulletin. He can be reached by phone at (507) 285-7704 or by e-mail at Post-Bulletin.

Source: http://www.postbulletin.com/newsmanager/templates/localnews_story.asp?z=21&a=324119